Samsung has combined biometric authentication with NFC technology, giving the user a 'securer' way to pay

MWC: NFC evolves with biometrics but what will users think?

Samsung created a buzz at Mobile World Congress with an embedded biometric fingerprint scanner that lets users to pay online at the touch of a finger.

While Samsung is not the first manufacturer to introduce fingerprint authentication – Apple’s iPhone 5S uses the same technology in place of its traditional passcode security feature – it is the first to offer consumers the ability to purchase goods using biometric authentication. Partnering with e-commerce giant PayPal, its chief product officer Hill Ferguson revealed security is an important issue and that a user’s biometric details are not stored on PayPal servers.

He said: “The only information the device shares with PayPal is a unique encrypted key that allows us to verify the identity of the customer. Consumers don’t need to sacrifice convenience to increase security.”

Combining biometrics with payment solutions provides two-factor authentication and certainly offers securer reassurance to users. Hitachi’s security solutions business manager Peter Jones said: “The decision to adopt biometric technology is indicative of a much wider trend that is seeing sensors being used across both consumer and business applications to improve user experience, but crucially to increase security.” Jones predicts the implementation of biometrics in mobile handsets is the just the beginning and 2014 will see a wider adoption of biometrics across industries.

Contactless payments and near-field communication technology is certainly growing, as already the markets are being flooded with cashless purchasing devices. Mobile phone vendors HTC, Samsung and Google all have manufactured NFC-enabled handsets for alternative paying methods.

Furthermore, credit card company MasterCard offers ‘PayPass’ while Visa offers ‘PayWave’. However, both have evolved their services and announced separately at MWC that they are targeting NFC-enabled smartphones to enable consumers to pay using their mobiles instead of cards through the support of Google’s ‘host card emulation’ available on Android OS – this avoids the need for an app but instead stores payment information in the cloud.

Guillermo Escofet, senior analyst at Informa Telecoms & Media explained with NFC payments, authentication via the SIM ensures maximum security but it is complex to roll out. “The big news around NFC is host card emulation; it dispenses the need of having a physical secure element in the phone and enables NFC transactions to be authenticated in the cloud.

“Though HCE is perceived as less secure, arguably, with no account information stored in the phone this can be seen as a securer option. Plus, security can be strengthened further through biometrics; while Samsung’s fingerprint recognition technology is the start, other approaches being mooted, such as, heart-rate recognition through wearable devices,” Escofet said.

While mobile manufacturers and banking merchants are in a race to enhance the NFC experience and create securer digital wallets, where does this leave the consumer? In Ovum’s 2013 ‘Consumer Insights Survey’, 49 per cent of respondents ranked lack of security as their priority concern with mobile payments.

“We think consumers will be wary and need some convincing due to security concerns; they are already worried about the security of m-payment mechanisms and are likely to view a new technology and process with suspicion,” said Ovum’s principal analyst Eden Zoller.

Smartphone manufacturers will continue to evolve the NFC technology experience for users, as seen with Samsung’s latest edition or through the use of cloud services. However, there is a chance the adoption by users will be slow and manufacturers are yet to prove the security side is secure enough.

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